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Most Effective Team Structure

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Agile talks about small team sizes with the magic numbers of 7 plus minus 2. Agile also recommends whole teams. Whole team is a concept that recommends having sufficient skills within the team itself to get the job done. This implies that the development team has the requisite testing skills, database skills, user interface skills, apart from the core development skills. However, many organizations still struggle with questions related to the optimal team size and an efficient team composition.

Scott Ambler suggested that depending on the project needs there could be small Agile teams or large Agile teams. Small teams generally have the standard roles of Scrum i.e. A scrum master, development team and a product owner. The small team could also use a supporting cast consisting of technical experts like DBAs, domain experts and testers. A large team needs a 'team of teams' approach. According to Scott,

The typical strategy is to organize your larger team into a collection of smaller teams, and the most effective way to do so is around the architecture of your system. Each subteam should be responsible for one or more subsystems, enabling them to work as a small agile team responsible for delivering working software on a timely basis. This strategy is often referred to as Conway’s Law after Melvin Conway who introduced it in the late 1960s, and is one of several lean development governance strategies.

Steve Miller suggested that along with the Scrum recommended roles, he found it unrealistic for the team to handle quality assurance and documentation well. They improved the team composition to have 2 more roles. Software quality engineer to be responsible for the quality of a sprint and a Documentation specialist for creating user guides, administrative guides and training material.

Likewise, responding to a discussion on the Scrum Development group about team sizes, Michael F. Dwyer commented that

As Ron Jeffries may be otherwise occupied I will borrow his famous tag "2 + 2 = 5 with sufficiently large enough quantities of 2". Team size can be as small a 1 and as large as 500, it all depends on your definition of team and member involvement.

Thus there is a general consensus around the need to tweak the team sizes and composition as per the project needs. However, how do you validate that you have the most efficient team structure?

Mike Cohn suggested that answering the following nine questions and getting an affirmative response to each suggests a well structured team. His list of questions include

  1. Does the structure accentuate the strengths, shore up the weaknesses, and support the motivations of the team members? A team where weakness of a team member is overshadowed by strength of others.
  2. Does the structure minimize the number of people required to be on two teams (and avoid having anyone on three)? Attempting to do too many concurrent projects or multitasking is detrimental to progress.
  3. Does the structure maximize the amount of time that teams will remain together? Favor a design that allows team membership to persist over a longer period to let that team feeling and bonding persist.
  4. Are component teams used only in limited and easily justifiable cases? Teams should be feature teams created around the end-to-end delivery of working features.
  5. Will you be able to feed most teams with two pizzas? Majority of teams in a good design should have 7 plus minus 2 members.
  6. Does the structure minimize the number of communication paths between teams? If, for making a minor change in the application, the interteam communication is high then revisit the structure.
  7. Does the structure encourage teams to communicate who wouldn’t otherwise do so? An effective team design encourages communication among teams or individuals who should communicate but may not do so on their own accord.
  8. Does the design support a clear understanding of accountability? The structure should enforce the concept of shared ownership and collective success.
  9. Did team members have input into the design of the team? Team members should feel that it is the team that they built.

After answering the questions do you believe that you have an efficient team structure? What tweaks did you have to make to the Agile recommendations to arrive at your efficient team structure?

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